The State of the Crowdsourcing Union, 2011

Later this month President Obama will deliver the annual State of the Union address. In the address the President will discuss the relative strength of our economy, our institutions, and our relationships with other nations and our current standing in the world.

I thought it appropriate , at the beginning of this new year, to do the same. But instead of a discussion of our nation’s current situation, I wanted to have a look at the state of crowdsourcing – as an industry, as profession, and a force for change in the world of business, creativity, technology, and politics.

To delve into this analysis, I have created a list of nine  crowdsourcing platforms, and summarized their efforts. Each of these players is impacting our world in important ways both economically and socially. Here is my list of  influencers in the world of crowdsourcing and how they are bringing significant change to this still young domain.

Amazon Mechanical Turk. In many ways the granddaddy of crowdsourcing platforms, Turk enables users to tap into it’s network of workers to perform tasks which computers are unable to do, but which humans can perform quickly and inexpensively. Examples of the tasks performed by the Turk community include translation, transcription, image tagging and even searches for missing persons. Turk was among the first platforms to truly leverage the power of a distributed workforce and to demonstrate that providers around the world would happily participate in such a model.

Trada. is the first company to devise s system to effectively crowdsource SEO (search engine optimization) services. Paid search typically involves the use of thousands of keywords and dozens or even hundreds of specifically targeted ads which are delivered when a user types a query into a search engine. Most online (and many many offline) companies are leveraging paid search and pay many thousands of dollars to experts to manage their campaigns.  A company looking to place ads on search networks posts their campaign through Trada and their community of SEO experts contributes keywords and terms to the campaign. These PPC (pay-per-click) experts are only paid if the terms they contribute lead to clicks and conversions for the advertiser’s site or service.

JJ’s List. This site is a wonderful resource for Chicago-area with disabilities; essentially a version of Yelp targeted to folks who need special accommodation in their everyday life. JJ’s List let’s users post reviews of services and businesses such as restaurants, stores, banks, movie theaters, and doctor’s offices. The users can search the database and read the reviews about how well businesses accommodate disabled people. Although a young site, with relatively few listings and users, JJ’s List is a great example of a targeted crowd-driven site with a purpose.

Crowdsortium. The first industry group, Crowdsortium began its young life as a Google group for companies in the crowdsourcing space who wanted to share information and advice with one another. This self-organized group works to advance the industry and share best-practices, research results, and company data to advance the cause of its member companies and to educate others on the positive role that crowdsourcing can play in business.

Jeff Howe. The godfather of the crowdsourcing movement, Jeff coined the term in a 2006 article for Wired magazine and remains one of the leading experts in the field, having literally written the book (Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business) on the subject. He defined crowdsourcing as “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.” Pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?

crowdrise. Philanthropy by the crowd and for the crowd. Om this site anyone can start a fundraising project,  and share it with the world raising money for any cause they choose. Recent projects include scholarships for cancer survivors, efforts to fight malaria, and raising funds to buy a truck for a village in Africa.  Plus the actor Edward Norton is the force behind this social-crowd venture. Cool.

Victors & Spoils. Billed as the world’s first creative (advertising) agency built on the principals of crowdsourcing, V&S does work for brands such as Dish Network, Levis, and Harley Davidson. Their member designers, copy-writers, and creative directors battle it out for their ideas in the company’s Squirrel Fight. Awesome work – have a look here at the result of one of their first campaigns>

TopCoder. 275,000 software engineers work together on this platform to deliver results to client companies world-wide. Every project started on the site is assigned a project manager who coordinates teams of engineers to deliver software created to the buyers requirements. A buyer works with the team to plan. prototype, build, and test their software.

The United States Government. The federal government has embraced the crowd in a meaningful way, with the White House having issued a directive to all departments to issue challenges and prizes in order to find innovative solutions to the nation’s problems. This marks an important sea change in the way business will be done going forward and brings transparency and collaboration to the governing process. Good for them.

Photo: Paul Hocksenar